Lycoming's IE2: Perfect Timing?

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Now that Sun 'n Fun 2010 has had a chance to cool, what's the verdict? I arrive at these shows looking for cutting edge products that indicate the industry is bullish in the near and longer term future. In this regard, this year's show was slower than most but, frankly, I wasn't expecting much given the economy.

One thing that caught my eye was Lycoming's IE2 engine project, which appears to be making measurable progress. The engine is flying in Lancair's big Evolution project and in this video, the company's Doug Meyer gave us a detailed update on the project.

More important, the hardware itself looks convincing—not just a bunch of breadboxes wired together to make a passable presentation. We don't really know enough about the details of the operation and software to make anything like an informed judgment yet, but the thing clearly isn't standing still, either. Meyer told us these engines will be ready when the kit is ready to ship in about six months in late fall or early winter of next year. He also said some variant of the engine will be certified—if not deliverable—later this year.

Lycoming has moved the project forward along the automotive paradigm, with pulsed fuel injection, variable timing and knock sensors as the basis of detonation control. TCM tried the same strategy—less the knock sensors—with what became the PowerLink FADEC. That system has been fielded for quite some time, but response to it has been lukewarm.

Would-be buyers we've interviewed found the TCM FADEC intriguing, but not so much to buy it. The perceived benefits of such a system simply weren't obvious.

Will Lycoming fare any better? Possibly. Having a high-profile project like the Evo as a launch customer can't hurt and the timing is much better. The EPA has now put a more certain date on the elimination of lead in avgas and this seems certain to recalibrate the industry's mindset, which has basically been head in the sand—or head up the you know what—for more than 20 years.

By any standards—much less the reduced circumstances of 2010—the Lycoming development project is a big deal. It's tempting to say it's overdue, but that's simply not the case, as Continental learned by launching its electronic engine into a market where the demise of leaded fuel was still 20 years away.

They must have been reading our chicken little stories about avgas. Unfortunately, lots of people did.

Comments (19)

It's about time to see some modern technology work it's way into our aircraft engines. If we really want to keep costs under control, we need to be able to use a somewhat standard fuel, perhaps (gasp) with ethanol blended in, as opposed to boutique racing gas that's dyed blue. Lycoming's system is a good step in that direction.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | April 23, 2010 7:35 PM    Report this comment

I think this is just a hashed over version of the existing TIO 540 U2A designed to force all the existing engine owners to pay $80,000 or so per engine to change when ever 100 LL goes away. it offers no operational advantages over the present engine other than knock sensing. This is because the compression ratio, I hear, is the same as the existing engine at 7.3:1. This is the engine in the Malibu that we all need to run rich to keep alive. If it leaned to best economy it has a very high TIT that causes overhauls every 500 to 700 hours or so. in order to keep it alive it needs to be run very rich. When I talk to Piper at OSH the experienced salesmen all say you must run that engine very rich.

If the IE2 system would allow the use of Compression ratios of 8.5 : 1 or so that would reduce the TIT by 100 deg or so and allow aggressive leaning which would save 4 gal per hour per engine at 65% or75% while keeping the TITs below 1600 deg.

that would be a real improvement

Posted by: BILL LAWSON | April 26, 2010 9:04 AM    Report this comment

The aviation industry needs to move into this century. Electronic engine controls are overdue. Both Lycoming and Continental know how to make them work as do other providers. The manufacturers need to give us a bolt on retrofit system for the thousands of engines in the field. Electronic fuel injectors in the primer holes; self powered electronic engine controls in the magneto mounts. Dual redundant systems with better reliability and economy than the antiquated systems of magnetos and fuel systems now in use. The systems should be a retrofit for both carbureted and fuel injected engines. Inexpensive proven components are available off the shelf; when was the last time your car wouldn't start or run in the worst of conditions?

Expecting tens of thousands of users to buy new engines is unrealistic. Whoever provides the new systems as a retrofit for less than $5000 will be very successful; the actual components cost a fraction of that amount. The engineering is done; package the systems; certify and sell them.

Lead is not good for engines or people; most of the current fleet of engines will run happily on 91 octane Mogas. A European refiner provides 96 octane fuel; 100 without the lead. It is likely that electronic controls will allow the higher powered engines to run well on this fuel which already exists.

It is well past time to get moving on this change.

Posted by: BRIAN HOPE | April 26, 2010 9:54 AM    Report this comment

$125,000 for just the engine? You must be kidding me. That is the price of 4 really nice new cars, or 4 'normal' Lycoming or Continental engines of similar size. Sure, airplane volumes are much lower, and everything is essentially custom hand built, but at that kind of price the buyers will be scarce and the problem will continue.

Posted by: peter vans | April 26, 2010 10:08 AM    Report this comment

I echo Mr. Vans sentiment; the ugly fact which is on the one hand unimaginable and on the other inescapable is that aggressive anti-lead legislation has the potential of blowing a huge hole in the accessibility of GA to those of modest means.

Posted by: ANTHONY NASR | April 26, 2010 12:41 PM    Report this comment

One other problem is that especially for the naturally aspirated 540 engines or the 300 hp turbonormalized engines like you find in the Aerostar 601P line that now have a compression ratio of 8.7:1, there will be a reduction in performance and fuel economy as the compression ratios will be reduced from 8.5 or 8.7 to 7.3. One of the primary effects will be to reduce fuel economy by 10 to 20% in order to run on 94 octane. the other main problem will be the hp available for a naturally aspirated engine will be reduced by up to 15% as the HP available is generally somewhat proportional to the compression ratio.

The question to ask is; will the 300 hp version of the AE2 have the same specs, hp vs rpm as existing engines?

this may force the replacement low compression engines to increase the displacement to 580 cuin. in order to develop the Hp required by the type certificate.

There are solutions to getting the engines to develop the rated Hp on lower octane fuel and getting good efficiency but they involve many more changes to the design than slapping on electronic controls and modern injectors.

The AE2 engine, as now shown, is only a band aid and not the complete redesign necessary to meet the challenges posed by eliminating 100LL

Posted by: BILL LAWSON | April 26, 2010 3:14 PM    Report this comment

"aggressive anti-lead legislation has the potential of blowing a huge hole in the accessibility of GA to those of modest means" Perhaps, if you absolutely have to be flying a Malibu or some other fire-breathing speedster. However, if that's the case, you are not a person of modest means. The vast majority of 172/182/PA28 series of airplanes would be quite happy with a 92UL fuel or better. I think we often forget when buying parts or making mods on our airplanes that our 30 year old 172 costs 300k new today - you are buying parts for the aerial equivalent of a Ferrari - when you look at the light twins you are buying parts for a 750k to 1.5 mil airplane new - in that case $125,000 sounds reasonable for an engine - although way, way out of my budget.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | April 26, 2010 6:08 PM    Report this comment

I cringe at the idea of EFI with ignition control. That means high current draw so you cannot fly for long with an alternator failure (or at all with a battery failure). Basically you're going down in a hurry if you have any electrical problems.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | April 27, 2010 11:07 AM    Report this comment

No doubt there are some concerns with redundant power on an electronic ignition and fuel injection system. I'd think an auxillary battery and backup alternator like GAMI's supplenator would be needed for a FADEC engine. Redundancy shouldn't be an issue if the charging systems and batteries are properly maintained - and I'm willing to bet that the reliability will be better with a dual ignition electronic system than a dual mag system. Personally, I'd never want to go back to a distributor ignition and carburetor on my pickup and I think we'll see the same thing with aircraft engines.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | April 27, 2010 5:35 PM    Report this comment

It makes one wonder how the Bombardier engine developed in the 90's would fit into this picture.

Posted by: JEAN F REAT | April 29, 2010 6:47 AM    Report this comment

The Bombardier engine was a good candidate however the manufacturer, that I know about, that tried it said it was a good start however Bombardier refused to make changes to the engine that the manufacturer required for good integration into an airplane. it was the normal case of a product developer developing a product in a vacuum without talking to the customer and then refusing to listen to the customer.

Bombardier developed it based on their own ideas, threw it over the wall and said "here use this" and the customers said "yes its a good start but we need to modify this part for our aircraft use" and the engine manufacturer said "you don't know anything so take it or leave it" and the aircraft manufacturer left it.

There are too many arrogant engineers that believe they know better and will not listen to the customer and as a result many promising developments like this engine, die young

Posted by: BILL LAWSON | April 29, 2010 8:40 AM    Report this comment

Probably related to those engineers who say we've done it this way for years and nothing else will work. Now, at least with aviation fuel, we're forced to innovate. Innovation most often results from racing, wars, exploration, and government mandates.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | April 29, 2010 11:48 AM    Report this comment

Electronic engine controls have to be self powered per my comments above. Turbine Fadecs have a PMG (permanent magnet generator) integrated into the system; if the engine is turning, the system is powered. The current magneto drives provide the perfect place to mount the new Fadec.

There is no reason that compression ratios have to be reduced with modern engine controls. Cars run 10 to one and more on 87 octane fuel. 96UL should be plenty for properly designed systems. 91 Mogas will work in the large percentage of current engines.

To reiterate, we need a certified retrofit system at no more than $5000. Whoever comes up with it will have a ready market and lots of volume.

Posted by: BRIAN HOPE | April 30, 2010 5:36 PM    Report this comment

Brian, I agree completely with your statement that electronic controls have to be self-powered. In fact, that is what prompted my comment regarding the Bombardier/Rotax V220 and V300T engines. As I recall, they had two external alternators and one small internal PMG powering a FADEC system. They were also much smaller displacement engines, with smaller swept volume per cylinder, which allows you to run higher compression (increases thermal efficiency) with less risk of detonation or pre-ignition. Of course, they had an integral PSRU. They were also liquid cooled, allowing better temp control of the heads, no risk of "shock cooling", better heater, etc.

Posted by: JEAN F REAT | May 1, 2010 11:56 AM    Report this comment

I thought it was funny when the Diamond TWIN Diesel lost both FADEC engines on takeoff. So much for "reliability" because even the twin diesel is no better than a SINGLE battery.
And YES, I did drive in to work today in a 36 year old car with a carb and a distributor because my EFI car had problems running this morning because of a (suspected) bad crank angle sensor (again).

Posted by: Mark Fraser | May 3, 2010 7:11 AM    Report this comment

The DA42 double engine failure was due to poor design coupled with a failure by the pilots to follow proper procedures.

The poor design should never have been certified; the procedure (not followed) didn't save the day.

Electronic Aircraft engines should have full redundancy; single point failure modes should be eliminated.

Still waiting for someone to offer a full retrofit system at a reasonable price.

Posted by: BRIAN HOPE | May 3, 2010 7:28 AM    Report this comment

I agree with Brian Hope above and would like to add that I think they have approached this the wrong way. While the Lancair deal might give some good in-the-field information, I think these systems should be developed and marketed as something you will want to have installed on your existing motor right now because it will go straight on, save you money and make what you have work better. Plus it will protect you from future fuel issues by allowing your motor to run on various current or future fuels. Anything less than that is messing around. Something that they can sell 100,000 units of, with engine-specific installation kits, could be done for $5,000 to $8,000.
And as I have said before, what happened to the GAP engine tech? That was 2001 - why are we wringing out hands about avgas 9 years later?

Posted by: John Hogan | May 3, 2010 11:18 AM    Report this comment

"Plus it will protect you from future fuel issues by allowing your motor to run on various current or future fuels"

Irrelevant since the fuel has to be certified for the airframe as well as the engine. We cannot even run car gas now because of what the alcohol does. It's also naive to assume that it will save money because aviation engines run at a constant high speed most of the time (so fancy fuel metering systems or ignition systems don't really save much at all). If you flew thousands of hours a year, then maybe.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | May 7, 2010 12:54 PM    Report this comment

In fact, modern engine management systems will save fuel; typically, a ten gallon an hour engine would save about a gallon an hour, adds up as fuel gets more expensive. The effect will be particularly noticeable with formerly carbureted engines. An additional savings will come from full time automatic mixture control; many pilots do not lean properly. Maintenance will be reduced; over-rich mixture is hard on engines.

The ability to run on various fuels is real, and of course the fuel would have to be approved. There is lots of Mogas without alcohol. In Canada, Premium Shell has no alcohol; as attested by Shell, and a label on the pumps.

Posted by: BRIAN HOPE | May 8, 2010 9:08 AM    Report this comment

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